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26 Aug, 2010 03:30

Saying NO to tradition: Indian couples breaking caste taboos

In India, society has been socially divided for generations. However, young people try to break traditions and caste taboos in their private life.

Prakash and Sundaram Singh have upset their families. Born into different castes, they were expected to marry one of their own. But they have broken what is considered a taboo.

“An inter-caste marriage is considered a sin here,” Prakash told RT. “Our society wants to continue its traditions that people have been following for centuries. Her family has a much higher caste than mine. This hurt their ego, that the bridegroom is lower in status.”

The couple have enlisted the help of outsiders. The NGO, Unite Humanity Movement, often deals with inter-caste marriages. There have been more than 1200 such unions in the last decade in the Bihar state.

“We want to end this caste-based society, caste-based mindset and caste-based discrimination,” said activist Krishna Kant Dubey. “A casteless society can only be brought about by inter-caste marriages and inter-religious marriages.”

Another couple, Deepak and Shikha Sharma, eloped 10 years ago to tie the knot. Shikha's father filed a case of kidnapping against her husband and still refuses to talk to the couple.

“My family allowed me to visit them only after seven years, but not with my husband,” Shikha told RT. “Even now, if I do visit, my father does not speak to me. He is still angry with me.”

The police in Bihar are increasingly dealing with irate families and young couples in love. A kidnapping case has been filed against 22-year old Rohit Kumar for marrying teenager Anu Kumari.

“We are seeing many love cases such as these with both the boy and girl wanting to get married,” said inspector Vinod Prasad. “If the girl is above 18 years of age, the law recognizes her decision to marry the person of her choice but if she is younger than 18, then she has to behave according to her parents' wishes.”

A divide is growing between urban and rural India. In the cities, caste divisions are less important, while in rural India many refuse to let go of their traditions.

“Anybody marrying outside his caste is boycotted by us. No one in the village gives the couple any water or food, or even talks to them,” said village resident Chintanand. “If we find the marriage really offensive then we kick them out of the village.”

“We do not want them staying in this village, otherwise after seeing them someone else will marry outside their caste, and then a third will also follow. We don't want any of this,” he added.

However, to Prakash and Sundaram Singh, the caste system is just a relic of the past.

“Caste is just a creation of one's mindset,” said Prakash. “There is no real hierarchy between people.”

“In today's generation, who considers caste?” his bride, Sundaram, agrees. “Even if we do, the next generation will definitely not even think of it.”

Discrimination on the basis of caste is illegal in India, but in large parts of the country it remains the overriding factor when choosing a life partner. The sooner this changes, the faster will divisions over caste lose their relevance here.